Song of the South Review

Yep I’m going there.

After many requests, I finally watched on youtube the controversial film Song of the South and wanted to give you guys my thoughts.

zipadeedodaI’m sure many of you want to know first- is Song of the South racist?  My answer is a definitive yes.  Now is it the most racist thing I’ve ever seen?  No.  Particularly when it comes to Disney I feel like we often get two camps on racial sensitivity arguments.  Some on one side defend every last thing in a Disney film as being above board.  And then the other side nitpicks every detail and claims watching Disney will harm your children.  I often see the same type of division among feminist writers (with obvious exceptions like our friend to the blog Swanpride).   I personally think both extremes are nonsense.

Here’s how I see it.  When I was a kid I watched Gone with the Wind repeatedly.  I knew it was a good movie with many positive attributes (and the fact my Grandma loved it was in its favor).  But I was also not stupid.  I knew it was not an accurate depiction of slavery.  And I will say I never ‘loved’ the movie because the portrayal of the slaves made me uncomfortable even as a kid.  Still worth seeing but its not a film I would personally ever want to own.  I knew that as a kid and I know it now.

I think we need to have a similar confidence with material like Song of the South.  Kids aren’t stupid.  They know this is a movie and with a little careful parenting we can help them understand that the filmmakers meant well but there are some racially insensitive or racist moments.

That said, is the movie worth going to such a great deal to see?  Gone with the Wind is an important movie in the history of film for many reasons.  To me that is worth sitting through some uncomfortable moments.  However, I don’t think Song of the South is on that level.

In fact, I think if it wasn’t for the controversy and a great song Song of the South would be completely forgotten.  I found it to be thoroughly lame.

zipadeedoda2So what’s the story of Song of the South?  It is set in Reconstruction Era South and based on the Uncle Remus storybooks which were popular in the 20s.  Uncle Remus is a jolly old black man (a caricature for sure) played with a lot of warmth and light by James Baskett.  He won a special academy award for his performance and it is deserved.  He makes you smile even if you know such a man in real life would probably be more wounded behind all those stories.

song of south2So there is this little boy named Johnny who is Grandson of the plantation owner.  His father has left doing some fuzzily explained editing job for a newspaper.  The child actors in Song of the South are not very good. I found them cloying and annoying and not convincing at all.

Basically Johnny and a little girl named Ginny keep getting bullied by these two other kids on the plantation.  Uncle Remus cheers them up with stories about Brer Rabbit and his gang.  And when he first meets them he sings the iconic song Zip-a-dee-do-dah

There are three shorts with Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear.  I found all 3 to be forgettable and have a few cringe inducing moments.  None of them made me laugh or were that creative or different.

song of south6 song of south5It’s also very difficult to understand the Redneck English of the Brer characters from time to time.  Most of the shorts are Brer Rabbit about to get eaten by Brer Fox and Brer Bear and him getting out of it in the end.  But we have a tar baby which I understand was a part of the stories but feels extremely uncomfortable and another scene where Brer Rabbit is in a hangman’s noose, which given lynchings that were still happening in 1946 is tough to watch (and its not like we are free from such racially driven violence today by any means).

song of south4Basically the bullies keep picking on Johnny but the Mother blames Remus and says he must stop telling the stories (how about you actually raise your son lady?…).  This is so upsetting to Remus he is going to leave the plantation, which I found highly unlikely.  This kid has just been there a few days, so I doubt telling the stories to the white kids would be that upsetting to Remus. But various things happen and all is set right by the end of the movie.

song of the south5So again I do think Song of the South has racist or racially insensitive moments.  Is that a reason to not see the film?  You have to make up your mind for yourself on that.  I do think the hearts of the Disney team were in the right place.  They wanted to make a jolly film based on these folk stories.

It is not a hateful picture but racism can be unintentional and still be racism.  Again, I think kids are smart enough to know a film with animated bears and rabbits isn’t a historical depiction of the post-war South.  And the movie doesn’t teach them any bad lessons as far as their own behavior is concerned.

But like I said, I don’t think the movie is worth such an ordeal with your kids.  I don’t think it is damaging to them but I also think they won’t be that entertained by it so what’s the point?  To me it was entirely forgettable. Personally I think Disney should just release the film and it would be quickly forgotten.  By not releasing it they are making it into a bigger issue than it is and making the film seem more important than it is.

It has a nice song and an engaging performance but that’s about it.

And if you like it I don’t think you are racist or a bad person.  I can see things to like about it.  This is just strictly my opinion for myself and I don’t judge anyone else on what they can or cannot stomach and still enjoy.


Song of the Sea Review

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I have been hunting down the hidden animated gems from 2014.  Today is probably the most prominent hidden gem as it has an Oscar nomination: The Song of the Sea.  It is from Cartoon Saloon and distributed by Gkids Films directed and written by Tomm Moore.  It is the same team who made the lovely Oscar nominated Secret of the Kells in 2009.  As wonderful as Kells is I think Song of the Sea is even better.

I can’t remember the last time I cried so much in a movie and in a good way.  In a ‘I love these characters and I’m involved in the story’ kind of way. It is the 3rd animated film in 2014 to deal with subjects of death, grief and loss in a mature and beautiful way.  I was really moved by it and wish more people would see it.

There will be some spoilers but I will try to keep it to a minimum.

song of the seaThe main story is about a family that lives on a small island running a lighthouse.  At the opening little boy Ben loses his mother to childbirth with his sister Saoirse.  We then quickly move up and find out she is an odd child who at 6 has never learned to talk.  Ben resents his sister and he constantly carries around his mother’s book of Celtic legends.

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The stories focus on a myth called the selkie which if you’ve ever seen The Secret of the Roan Inish it is the basis for that movie as well.  The selkies live as both seals and humans and they have a power which animates everything including other magic like fairies.

The characters then go on a journey where they face peril, meet an Owl witch, some more friendly fairies and learn much more about Saoirse, Ben and their Mother. (I really don’t want to give much else away).

song of the sea3As you can tell from the photos on this post the animation is gorgeous. It flows and never makes the easy choice.  Everything has the feel of a wave because that is the power of the selkie myth.

song of the sea7There is a scene where Ben must say goodbye to his Mother and just writing about it now makes me tear up.  It really moved me.  The only thing I can think to relate it too is in Harry Potter when Harry has to stop looking in the Mirror of Erised and has to say goodbye to his parents.  It’s that kind of emotion.

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The Mother in the story

In front of me at the theater there were two little girls maybe 4 and 6. They were very chatty but it was kind of interesting to hear their reactions.  It definitely scared both of them at certain points and they were pretty upset.  Song of the Sea also has some jump scares and very tense moments that build.  They were asking their Mother if so and so character was going to be ok, very worried.  That’s really the only downside to Song of the Sea is it is pretty sad and scary in spots.  Characters go a lot of the movie heads hanging down in mourning.

This would not be the movie to put on for the kids birthday party or for a lively sleepover.  However, it would be good for a Sunday night movie viewing where there is time to discuss more challenging concepts with kids and get their thoughts. Save comedies like Lego Movie, Penguins of Madegascar or Spongebob for the parties and use Song of the Sea for a quieter softer parenting moment.

fairies song of the seaIf you can get out to the theaters and see it I would implore you to go.  Support hand drawn and smaller animation at the box office.  Movies like Song of the Sea deserve a wider audience.  I would love if we could get out of having a 2 system animation world and embrace lots of different studios and ideas.  That would be amazing!

I loved it.  I was really moved by it.  It made me cry and laugh on occasion. It’s sad but it is not a downer.  It is so hopeful and peaceful even in the sad moments that you don’t feel manipulated with your tears.

It was stunningly beautiful and even though I got lost from time to time in the Celtic lore it didn’t really matter because I knew enough of what was going on to root for our heroes.  The voicecast is also good with David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, Lisa Hannigan and Lucy O’Connell.

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I just wish more people would see it.  I went into Song of the Sea wondering if it was worthy of the nomination over Lego Movie (which I loved).  They are so different but yes Song of the Sea deserved it over Lego (Boxtrolls which I also loved should have been left off).  Song of the Sea is one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen.  Yep.  I will use that hyperbole.  I loved it!

The music by Bruno Coulais and Kiia is pitch perfect.  Like I said the only thing to really consider is if it might be too sad for very young children and when is the best time for a more thoughtful picture for our kids.  I bet they will love it too!  I think it is better than Princess Kaguya in both artistry and story and that’s saying a lot.

Overall Grade- A+

My youtube review.  Got emotional talking about it.